“Let brotherly love continue.” (Hebrews 13:1)
Brotherly love is the love that comes from God and functions within the context of our new family, the church. And we come to experience and express this love by repenting of our sin and trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation. A love like this is so very precious. It is little wonder then that the author of Hebrews says, Let brotherly love continue. It is something that is so very costly! Christ gave his own life; he died to purchase this love. This is not cheap, fleeting, diminishing love, but costly, enduring, and replenishing love.
However, this verse indicates a potential for brotherly love to stop. This all-important, ever precious, God-reflecting love, from within the church–could potentially come to a grinding halt. This is very concerning to the writer of Hebrews. This should be very concerning to Christians. This is why he urges his hearers, and all Christians who would come after them, to let brotherly love continue.
If we are going to persevere this brotherly love amid adversity we need to know what the problem is. What impedes brotherly love? What derails it? What suffocates it?
In short: selfishness.
In other words, we oppose it. The love of self will suffocate a love for others. John Calvin got it exactly right when thinking about this verse, he said, “when someone thinks more of himself than he ought he will love others less than he ought.”
Selfishness is such a helpful word when thinking about what impedes our progress in holiness. Selfish. It is to be focused on, preoccupied with, in love with, concerned with—self. It is the characteristic of a heart that is turned inward upon itself. We love self, preserve self, honor self, serve self, and defend self.
Selfishness is actually self-worship. Anything we elevate above God and his commands is what we worship. So, if we don’t obey God’s commands because we don’t like how it will make us feel, look, or because we just don’t want to—then we have identified our selfishness.
What does this look like? What impedes brotherly love in the church? We could list 500 things but here are five big ones.
1. Isolation from others. Regrettably some Christians do not make the Lord’s Day gathering a high priority. What’s more, some have very little contact with other believers during the week. It is very difficult to love other people when we are not with them. This also reveals a selfishness that we know suffocates brotherly love: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire….” (Prov. 18:1)
2. Disengagement. When we are with our brothers and sisters we must be present with them. It is not enough to physically be there we must actually be there. Consider a holiday gathering where Grandma is talking about her health or some stories from her youth only to have someone sitting there a few feet away scanning Facebook, reading the news, or playing Candy Crush? In order to do the requisite heart work in the church family we must be present not only physically but mentally, emotionally, and most importantly–spiritually. Are you present with your church family?
3. Superficiality. We have to remember that Christian love, at its heart, is a redemptive love. This means that it is rooted in God saving us from our sin. This includes the sin of selfishness. When we love others we are to be helping them to become more like Jesus Christ. If we are superficial, and by this I mean talking about all kinds of surface items, we will never get to the matters of the heart, the stuff that really matters. Superficiality will prevent the type of redemptive love that irritates (in the right sense) our sinful preoccupation with ourselves.
4. Unresolved conflict. When people have something against a brother or sister and they do not deal with the problem it creates a wedge in the relationship. Unresolved conflict builds walls in relationship. Each day that passes is another brick in the wall of separation. When we do not deal with conflict we have to understand that we are neither loving God nor are we loving our brothers. We are not loving God because we refuse to obey his commands and we are not loving our brother or sister because we do not care enough about holiness in their lives to actually speak with them about it. I am sure you can see how this is self-worship instead of God worship.
5. Gossip. This is talking about someone behind their back rather than going and talking to the person. Often times it is the defaming of the character by spreading lies about them. With gossip the heart bent in on itself attempts to rid itself of any competition by cutting other people down with their tongues. Instead of speaking the truth in love gossipers speak lies in pride.
If we are turned inward upon ourselves we will not be given to the sacrifice and service of another. We cannot love self and others. We will love the one and hate the other.
On the night before he was crucified our Lord washed his disciples’ feet. The king took on the culturally lowest form of a servant and he bathed them. This was demonstrating the type of service he has for his people. And, it was to be the type of service that is to characterize his followers.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:34-35)
The one who gave everything to serve his family, even to his own death, calls us to reflect the same type of selfless, outward looking, love for his family, the church.
Because brotherly is so precious to God it must be precious to us.
(this is an excerpt from a sermon entitled Let Brotherly Love Continue preached at Emmaus Bible Church — here is the link to the full message)